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What is happening at the Apple Inc. factory, Foxconn, and how does it affect us?


I have read several articles in the last week regarding Apple Inc.’s manufacturing in China, through the company Foxconn. Perhaps it is time for us to take a step back and really understand what is going on here, and how this affects us in Canada.

Just out today, there is news of Apple workers begging for better working conditions in the Foxconn factory.

What led to this? It appears that about 137 workers claim they were poisoned in 2010 by a chemical known as n-hexane that is used to clean iPhone screens. This chemical causes eye, skin and respiratory tract irritation, along with persistent nerve damage.

According to the workers, they have been pressuring Apple to compensate them for their injuries and improve working conditions in the factory. They point to the 18 suicides that occurred in 2010, the newly developed suicide nets around the top of the factory’s towers, the long hours and the $1.78 hourly wages as reasons to be concerned.

Indeed, the rising criticism over labour practices in the Foxconn factory has caused the Fair Labour Association to get involved. Apple has allowed the association to audit Foxconn’s operations. The association plans to inspect Apple’s other suppliers later in the spring.

The Fair Labour Association has been working since 1999 as a collaborative effort of socially responsible companies, colleges and universities, and civil society organizations, to create lasting solutions to abusive labor practices by offering tools and resources to companies, delivering training to factory workers and management, conducting due diligence through independent assessments, and advocating for greater accountability and transparency from companies, manufacturers, factories and others involved in global supply chains.

There are two parts to the association’s investigation at the Foxconn facilities:

  • An assessment of the treatment of workers and of working conditions in the factories, which seeks to identify root causes of workers’ rights violations — this assessment will analyze information from several sources, including document review, physical observation, management interviews, and onsite and off-site interviews with workers
  • Provision of onsite, anonymous surveys — this helps investigators hear directly from the workers about working conditions and how they are treated in the factories

When the investigation is complete, the results will be announced along with the actions Apple intends to take to address any violations of the association’s Workplace Code of Conduct. The results will also include recommendations from the association for developing systems and procedures to improve working conditions in a lasting and sustainable way.

Well, one positive thing that has come from all of this is that Apple has joined the Fair Labour Association as a participating company. This means that Apple has agreed to uphold the association’s Workplace Code of Conduct throughout its supply chain.

The preamble to the Code of Conduct says it all: the goal is to define labour standards that aim to achieve decent and humane working conditions. Participating companies must comply with all relevant and applicable laws and regulations of the country in which workers are employed and implement the Workplace Code of Conduct in their applicable facilities.

The Code of Conduct includes provisions prohibiting discrimination, harassment or abuse, forced labour, child labour, interference with the freedom of association and collective bargaining, irresponsible measures that can lead to an unsafe and unhealthy workplace, excessive hours of work and illegal forms of compensation.

The association’s efforts to train participating companies are very positive. Essentially, participating companies have access to the most advanced and robust social compliance training and capacity building materials, developed by experts.

This is important for us here in Canada, not only because we want the products we buy to be made using fair labour practices, but also because the standards set out in the Workplace Code of Conduct are standards we should be striving to meet on a global basis.

Another consequence of all the publicity is that the criticisms relating to toxic pollution and factory injuries have led to Apple to independently audit its factories in addition to the labour review.

What do you think? Do you think this is progress? Do you think the actions taken recently will help ameliorate working conditions at Foxconn and other Apple suppliers? Do you think Apple’s move to work with the Fair Labour Association will cause other companies to follow suit and improve their working conditions?

Christina Catenacci
First Reference Human Resources and Compliance Editor

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Christina Catenacci

Christina Catenacci, BA, LLB, LLM, was called to the Ontario Bar in 2002 and has since been a member of the Ontario Bar Association. Christina worked as an editor with First Reference between February 2005 and August 2015, working on publications including The Human Resources Advisor (Ontario, Western and Atlantic editions), HRinfodesk discussing topics in Labour and Employment Law. Christina has decided to pursue a PhD at the University of Western Ontario beginning in the fall of 2015. Read more
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2 thoughts on “What is happening at the Apple Inc. factory, Foxconn, and how does it affect us?
  • Thanks for your comment, Sarah.

  • Sarah Gayer says:

    I have been following with great interest the situation at Foxconn. The works has been outsourced to China to this company as a means of producing products for cheaper than it can apparently be made in North America. In order for the costs to be kept down, the workers suffer as has been captured by various reporters and videos. We allow and accept this type of abuse all in the name of profit and more profit. One has to remember that Apple now is the most valuable company in the world and also not to forget that Apple is not the only one taking advantage of its employees and forcing them to work in unsafe working conditions.